Until about a year ago, I had never watched a Hallmark movie. It’s not that I’m a snob with high standards. Anyone who knows me will attest to that. And it’s not that I have anything against romance. On the contrary, I absolutely love love. So, for “research purposes” only, I watched a couple. Okay, a few. Okay, I spent an entire Saturday watching them.
I acknowledge that some of my preconceived notions about this genre were correct. The plots are formulaic, the cast is attractive (are they the same actors in every movie?), and the timetable is predictable. They are generally set in a small town, resplendent with Christmas scenery. Within the first 15 minutes of each movie, I was able to predict which two people were going to fall in love. Typically, the woman has a successful career in the city, and the man is a rugged, masculine, beloved local. They always “meet cute,” i.e., a flat tire on a country road, or a curious puppy who escapes and then is found in an improbable hiding place. Thirty minutes into the movie, the man and woman fall in love. We meet their families and learn about their city versus country Christmas traditions. In the last half hour, a potential disaster occurs. It’s either a lost child, a fire, a flood in the basement, or a snake in the bathtub; pretty much any type of catastrophe except, maybe, the plague. And then, moments before the final credits roll, the disaster gets fixed, the leading man proposes, and the woman says “yes.”
Don’t you just love a happy ending?
I now get why these movies are so popular. In our reality, we are impatient, short-tempered, judgmental, politically divisive, and often culturally insensitive. I’ve discovered that Hallmark movies are an escape into a simpler world. A world that emphasizes decency and kindness. A world that is predictable and joyful. A world where the female lead travels with one suitcase yet wears three or four different winter coats in one weekend. (And also, a world that is as white as the snowy setting.)
I understand that there is no room for current events in a Hallmark movie. I have no expectation of seeing a gay or transgender protagonist. There won’t be a conversation about sexual harassment or abuse. Immigration isn’t an issue in a Hallmark movie. And not a single character has a drinking problem or a prescription drug addiction.
Hallmark movies are never set in a galaxy far, far away, nor on a Yorkshire estate in the early 1900s, nor in Middle Earth. Yet they’re a form of escape from reality, in the same way as Star Wars, Downton Abbey, and Lord of the Rings are for millions of fans. And although I try to escape the real world on a daily basis, I can now say with conviction that these movies will never be my own guilty pleasure. At least not as long as I can watch reruns of “Friends.”